From 2014 to 2016, there has been a spike in developmental disabilities among kids ages 3 to 17 from 5.76 percent to 6.99 percent. Which is why it’s never been so important to ensure that positive attitudes and behaviors are waiting for these children when they attend school.
Unfortunately, negative attitudes do arise in the educational system for children with developmental disabilities, whether it’s in the classroom or the cafeteria.
Understanding the “why” is the first step towards fixing this and creating a healthy learning environment for all children. Here we will be discussing where negative attitudes and behaviors toward children with disabilities stem from, how to intervene, and what proactive measures can be taken as a community.
Attitudes Towards Children with Developmental Disabilities
There have been a number of studies diving into the negative attitudes behind the perception of children with developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, this research has been aimed more towards the general public and not specifically geared towards teacher or counselors.
However, recent studies have shown us that both students and teachers share in a negative attitude towards children with disabilities. It was found in one 2004 study that while the majority held a neutral attitude towards children with disabilities over 20% had a negative attitude with females being slightly more negative than males.
Behaviors Towards Children with Disabilities
While it may seem natural that these attitudes would bleed over into the behaviors towards children, studies found that the majority of those with negative attitudes maintained indifferent behavior. However, in cases where negative behavior from teachers or counselors was expressed, there was a much higher rate of bias and discrimination.
It was also found that teachers with negative attitudes towards children with disabilities admitted to expecting low achievement from the students along with inappropriate behavior. In turn, this leads to more negative behavior from teachers.
Understanding the Source
It’s important to know where this negative attitude stems from if we are looking to repair it and give all students an equal chance with equal support. The source of these attitudes come from several areas. The first is cultural. Culturally children with disabilities are not well represented within the media, creating skewed stereotypes for our culture as a whole.
Second, and perhaps the most important reason, is that throughout the course of their training teachers and counselors only have a small fraction of their lessons geared towards children with disabilities. This creates a feeling of being unprepared among school staff.
Outcomes for Children
It would be naive to believe that negative attitudes and behaviors toward children with disabilities hold no negative outcomes for the students. Often, students will internalize these negative attitude and carry them over, causing them to affect the remainder of their education, their employment possibilities, social relationships, and even their physical health.
Since children tend to live up to the expectations of those around them, teachers expecting negative actions or inappropriate behaviors from the students will often receive just that, blaming the student for the results and not their own negative attitudes.
How to Intervene
The good news is, we can change this. As an advocate for students with disabilities, it’s vital that intervention is used whenever negative behavior or attitudes are represented. This doesn’t mean intervening only on a situational basis, but when it comes to events, materials, or experiences that portray a bias against children with disabilities.
This can be utilized by volunteering for school-based activities and lessons or creating a panel within the school personally dedicated to the treatment and behavior towards children with disabilities.
Training School Personnel to be Mindful
The majority of teachers truly want what’s best for all of their students, however, they simply seem unprepared or unsuited for the job in cases of children with disabilities. We can avoid these issues by insisting on changes being made to counselor and teacher training that is adapted towards the emotion, mental, and health needs of children with disabilities.
This can also be implemented on a smaller scale with mandatory conferences and meetings that directly teaches staff the best way to engage with children with disabilities.
Intervening with Students
It’s important that these changes are also mirrored with the students that attend the school. The students are the peers and the community for children with disabilities, and the behavior they receive from this group will either be a great benefit or detriment.
For this reason, it’s important to create an inclusive space for all children, teach students how to hold positive behavior towards their peers and work to overcome false stereotypes they may see in the media.
Embracing Disabilities on a School Wide Level
By choosing to educate those who educate our children, we can create a more dedicated and understand culture throughout the school. This means everyone from counselors to coaches understands the importance of creating a loving, accepting, and inclusive behavior for all students.
There can also be additional efforts in screening for negative attitudes towards children with disabilities during the original hiring process, to help maintain a supportive and cooperative community within the school.
Resources for Children with Disabilities
There are a number of resources available for those looking to reframe the behavior towards children with disabilities in their school. Teachers and counselors can increase their knowledge of special education through an online course, videos, or ebooks.
There are a number of Universities that even offer Masters programs for special education, to help equip teachers with the necessary skills and attitudes. The more that can be absorbed and applied by school staff the better the environment for all of our students.
Celebrating Children with Developmental Disabilities
It’s important to remember that we have just as much to learn from children with developmental disabilities as they do from us.
As parents, teachers, and allies it’s our job to create a safe and supportive space for children to receive the education and guidance they deserve. This begins with a strong educational core for our staff and extends out to teaching proper behaviors and attitudes for every student.